I always knew what the goal was.
Freshman year, a hazy dream of a forgotten image. Any sheet of paper could have resembled it. Only the first words on the page mattered: “We are pleased to inform you.” Confirmation of my own worthiness to occupy the space I wanted for myself.
Sophomore year, the dream slipped alongside my grades, chemistry exams dragging at my future like nails on a chalkboard filled with incomprehensible formulas. Doubt curled into the gaps left by a college-age sister, the bed beside mine filled with warning.
Junior year, everyone started asking about it. It’s hard not to question something you keep having to explain to people. Why do you want to go? Don’t you want to be farther away? Wouldn’t you rather make your own path? One after another. The dream became a weight to carry, to clutch tighter than the snarl of expectations around my neck.
Senior year, I actually had to do something about it.
I pulled the essays out of my chest like shards of bone, baring myself for judgement and bowing my head under the gaze of something greater. Carefully crafted sentences became dust under my fingertips as I imagined them under someone else’s scrutiny; there is no rubric for being the kind of person a roommate will put up with.
The interview was agony, the wait was torture. The strain of it all blended together until individual facets of it were indistinguishable from one another. Why bother to count them all when you could just lie back and be crushed under their weight?
We are pleased to inform you. The key to salvation.
In the end, none of it was how I imagined. I was not at home, surrounded by my family. I did not break the seal on the envelope. Not even the words were right.
I was in a hallway, struggling to keep my voice down for the sake of the passersby. I was on the phone, struggling to hear my mother’s voice over the sound of my own hummingbird heartbeat. When the moment broke, I was surrounded by my family, but not one bound to me by blood.
“It gives me great pleasure to inform you.” That was the opening.
It wasn’t what I was looking for.
But as I fought air back into my hollow lungs,
A four-year-long noose sliding off my neck,
A floodlight suddenly visible at the end of the tunnel, illuminating the way ahead--
It was exactly what I’d wanted.